With the Vaca Muerta rock formation reaching over 7.4 million square acres, Argentina boasts the second largest shale gas deposit in the world by some accounts. Currently, Argentina is importing more fossil fuels than it is producing, and the exacerbation of this trend will prove unaffordable in the long-run. Argentina’s government has framed natural gas extraction in Vaca Muerta as the key to ending this trend, but there are also some significant issues to consider.
Proponents of natural gas argue that taking advantage of this resource could significantly boost Argentina’s economy, but it is necessary to look at some of the major concerns regarding increased investment in the hydraulic fracking of Vaca Muerta. According to Elizabeth Tedsen, a Senior Fellow at the Ecologic Institute, “the government has courted foreign investment to begin fracking, which has drawn opposition from local governments, environmentalists, and indigenous groups who fear that the environmental damage of fracking will far outweigh any short-term economic and energy benefits.” Other important considerations include the uncertain nature of the natural gas sector, questions of national and provincial sovereignty in light of government deals with American corporations, and the need for effective regulation. Continue reading Pitfalls of Fracking in Argentina
A study recently published in the scientific journal Environmental Science: Processes and Impacts, came out with new findings detailing the contents of fracking wastewater, or the water that rises to the surface after hydraulic fracturing operations, also known as produced water. Produced water is not just water used in the fracking operation, but also water that was in or nearby the reservoir that was being pumped now that the geologic formation it was trapped in has been fracked.
There has been significant concern about the chemical content of this water and its possible effects on water tables, human health, and the surrounding environment. Researchers took samples from three wells and conducted analysis. They found that all samples had levels of toxic elements such as mercury and arsenic in excess of US federal contamination standards on water quality. They also found carcinogens at dangerously high levels. However they did not find ethylbenzene and other polyaromatic hydrocarbons, which had previously been thought to be dissolved in produced water. These two compounds are carcinogens. Significant amounts of halogenated hydrocarbons, such as chlorine and bromine were also found, which causes neurological damage in humans.
This research highlights problems with wastewater and fracking. It not only confirms the presence of toxic and carcinogenic elements in fracking wastewater it also identifies the challenges of cleaning produced water. The study calls for more research at different sites to establish a broader understanding of produced water and to develop better ways of cleaning produced water.
Source: Maguire-Boyle, S., & Barron, A. (2014). Organic compounds in produced waters from shale gas wells. Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts 16(10): 2237–2248. DOI: 10.1039/C4EM00376D.
In the township of Poland in Ohio a series of earthquakes were detected in March of 2014. These earthquakes coincided with fracking operations in that month. The conclusion of the study is that fracking operations caused these earthquakes. Five of these earthquakes were between 2.1 and 3.0. A 3.0 earthquake is a level which, according to the federal seismology services, is an experience similar to a large truck passing nearby.
It has been known for some time now that fracking causes large numbers of micro earthquakes. Fracking literally creates long micro fractures in rock formations. Injecting fracking fluid into these new fractures causes micro quakes. It is quite uncommon for fracking to cause larger earthquakes which can be felt by people on the surface. However the geography deep underground is not well understood in some regions. Sometimes fracking takes place in or near unknown fractures, creating risk for larger earthquakes as were detected in Poland Ohio.
“These earthquakes near Poland Township occurred in the Precambrian basement, a very old layer of rock where there are likely to be many pre-existing faults,” said Robert Skoumal who co-authored the study with Michael Brudzinski and Brian Currie at Miami University in Ohio. “This activity did not create a new fault, rather it activated one that we didn’t know about prior to the seismic activity.”
New mapping techniques are being developed to detect and map these deep faults. In the meantime the study calls for closer cooperation between industry, government regulators, and the scientific community to map these faults and prevent more serious earthquakes from occurring.
California is leading the way on fracking legislation, with the passage of California Senate Bill 4, frackers in California are now required to follow a new set of rules on disclosure of their fracking fluids and the impacts they have on the environment. The law requires that fracking operators publish the proportions, quantity, and chemical names of all of the components of their fracking fluid, and to provide free testing of water sources nearby the fracked wells. The law also requires disclosure on how much wastewater is produced, its chemical composition, and how it is disposed off. A particularly good measure will be a requirement for the monitoring of groundwater before, during, and after fracking operations.
The law is being attacked by both the fracking industry and environmentalists. Environmentalists see the law as too weak. One group sent a petition to Governor Brown of California, asking him to pass a ban on all fracking in the state. Industry groups have claimed that this bill will make it harder to frack and slow down growth in the state, threatening growth in California.
Fracking can cause contamination of aquifers and small earthquakes, as multiple studies have concluded. However, there has yet to be a comprehensive scientific study looking at large number of wells on the effects of fracking on ground water and seismic activity in a broad area. By making testing mandatory this law could provide clear and definitive data on fracking and foster a much better understanding of the practice. While some my say that a ban is necessary, it perhaps premature before a comprehensive scientific study has been conducted. Should the data this law will provide make it clear that fracking is an imminent danger to water quality, it would then be appropriate and necessary to pass a law banning the practice entirely.